Affirmations, State’s Largest LGBT Center, Ends Helpline Program

gardenPURPLEtopAffirmations, State’s LargestCandleWickShoppe_Oakland115_144x260 LGBT Center, Ends Helpline Program

(Crystal A. Proxmire, Dec. 10, 2015)

Ferndale, MI – Where can LGBT people, and those seeking information about LGBT issues, turn when they need someone to talk to about the unique problems faced by being in the queer community?

For the last 27 years, that answer has been Affirmations’ Helpline.

But that program is no more according to various sources and confirmed by Rachel Crandall-Crocker who has been working at the Helpline for years. Crandall-Crocker confirmed that the program came to an end this week, but asked for some time to think before giving further Judy_Palmer30yearscomment.

A search of the www.goaffirmations.org website shows only one reference to the helpline, and the page that was once about the program has been deleted.

Google still comes up with the page description “Feel like you’re the only one? Affirmations Helpline provides peer counseling, empathy and community resources for the LGBT community at 1-800-398-GAYS.”   Click on the link and there is no explanation, only a mainly purple screen that says “Error 404.”

Affirmations Board President Frank Aiello responded to questions sent via email on Dec. 8, stating “Either someone from the staff or myself will get back with you soon.” There has yet to be further comment.

In 2013 the Helpline program was featured in an article in Between the Lines (written by myself). The story focused on the history of the Helpline and changes taking place at that time. Johnny Jenkins, Helpline Coordinator at the time, said there were over 100 calls per NewWay_Jazz_Tuesdaysmonth to the line, but that this number had been decreasing in the years leading up to that.

Affirmations had been operating the Helpline out of a small office where calls could be taken in privacy. In 2013, the phone was moved to the front desk where employees and volunteers were cross-trained to answer the Helpline and do regular reception duties.

“Our goal is to make the front desk the epicenter of information,” Jenkins said in the 2013 article.

Also in the 2013 article, the Communications Director at the time, Cass Varner said “Phones no longer serve as the primary means of communications for many people – especially within the 45 and under demographic. Folks are now utilizing texting, live chat and social media. Additionally, a large percentage of our calls currently come from outside of Michigan. This has really forced us to reevaluate the program as a whole and think more strategically about marketing and outreach….It is clear that the Helpline program should be integrated into the culture of the center versus staying isolated in a closed off room. We feel strongly that garden16_monte_albertlong-term integration of the Helpline program and front desk services would better serve center users, and those seeking accessible mental health and advocacy services. Moving forward we plan to offer the community more information and referrals, provide a stronger reporting mechanism for the anti-bullying initiative, while also making Helpline staff and volunteers available to the public.”

It is unclear what has prompted the change in that plan, since questions remain unanswered. However, the organization has undergone many changes in leadership and staff in recent years.

Up until this week, the Helpline had been a fundamental constant in Affirmations’ history. The need for a central source of information and connection is what brought the founders of the organization together in the first place.

In the 2013 story, Gary Roberts, Affirmation’s first board president, spoke of a one-year grant GT ad 05that had been given to a group called MOHR. That grant did not continue but several of the people involved decided that a Helpline was necessary. Roberts and Jeff Vitale put together the paperwork to create Affirmations, with the Helpline being the organization’s first big project. They promoted the Helpline through the local media and did outreach to schools to let teachers and counselors know it was available.

“We were fortunate. We had a couple of psychologists in our group and we all did training. There were a number of calls talking about their feelings about suicide,” Roberts said. “We got calls from kids who got thrown out by their parents. We built bridges with emergency shelters. We helped kids deal with schools and let them know what was going on. We didn’t just take calls. It was trying to build a (safe) environment…We told people about support groups. Jan Stevenson created a youth group at the center and a lot of kids did that. But no matter what we did, the Helpline was the first contact. There were many times when people would call the DDAnew01Helpline to get a feel for Affirmations. It was a way for people to feel out if it was a safe environment. Could they get a sense of comfort from the person they were talking to?”

Through the years calls to the Helpline have covered a variety of concerns including people in communities that don’t have community centers or safe contacts to talk to, people looking for information about coming out, resources like LGBT-safe housing options, how to handle discrimination and mistreatment, and information on support groups. Some call when they are in crisis, and untold numbers of lives have been saved over the years because of a voice on the other end of the line. People also have called because they know someone who is gay or transgender and they want to learn more what that means or how they can be supportive. There have also been calls by people wanting to volunteer.

People can still reach front desk volunteers when they call the center’s main number, and the center itself remains open.

UPDATE: Affirmations has updated their page to announce that their welcome desk will field calls for people with questions  and be a resource for visitors.   “As part of this service, we will be directing all inbound callers first to the W&RD. Trained volunteers will be able to answer questions related to local resources like the above. Emergency and helpline-type calls will be redirected to national expert helpline services going forward to provide the best possible service to our community and people in crisis,” the website states.

The organization has not yet responded to questions about the reason for the change.

The phone number for the Welcome & Resource Desk will be their main number: (248) 398-7105.

This story will be updated with more information as it is available.

Learn more about Affirmations at www.goaffirmations.org.

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